Icelandic Locals to Receive a Second Travel Voucher This Year

Goðafoss waterfall

Icelanders can expect to receive another domestic travel voucher this year, in a repeat of the 2020 government initiative meant to support tourism companies by encouraging locals to travel within the country. Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir told RÚV the government is still finalising the details of this year’s voucher, which will be announced in the next few days. Many locals are planning to spend their summer vacation in Iceland.

Last year, all residents of Iceland 18 and older received a voucher worth ISK 5,000 ($36/€33), redeemable at hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related businesses across the country. Around 200,000 redeemed their voucher, while around 38,000 have not yet done so. Last year’s vouchers are valid until the end of May 2021. The initiative cost Iceland’s government around ISK 1.5 billion ($10.8 million/€9.8 million).

Þórdís says there is political will to revive the initiative, though it has not yet been decided what the amount will be, nor for how long the voucher will be valid. “We are working on it in the context of other issues in this hopefully final phase of this project,” Þórdís stated. “That work is going well and it will become clear in the next few days how it will be implemented.”

Unclear Whether Foreign Tourists Will Multiply

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist has discouraged locals from travelling abroad in light of the high rate of COVID-19 infection in many other countries. Locals interviewed by RÚV this week stated they were planning to spend their summer vacation within Iceland’s borders. It’s not clear how many foreign tourists Iceland can expect this summer, though border regulations are expected to change from May 1 allowing travellers from low-risk areas to eschew quarantine upon arrival.

Icelandic Authorities Delay Use of Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine

The first 2,400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) have arrived in Iceland. Authorities have however decided to delay its use until more information is available about its possible side effects. U.S. federal health agencies recommended pausing the use of the vaccine earlier this week after six recipients developed a rare disorder involving blood clots. Janssen is delaying the rollout of the vaccine to Europe.

Authorities Wait for More Information

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason told Vísir the potential side effects reported from the Janssen vaccine are similar to those reported with the AstraZeneca vaccine. “We will wait to use the vaccine until we have better information,” Þórólfur stated. “We will wait with the vaccine and see if we can use it for certain groups that we believe are not at risk from the vaccine as we are doing with AstraZeneca.”

The COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by AstraZeneca and Janssen are based on viral vector technology, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. While the European Medicines Agency determined a causal link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare instances of blood clots, it nevertheless ruled the benefits of the vaccine to outweigh the risks and recommended its continued use.

Could Delay Vaccination Efforts

Iceland expects to receive a second shipment of the Janssen vaccine later this month, making for a total of 4,800 doses in April. The vaccine is administered in a single dose, meaning the April shipments are enough to fully vaccinate 4,800 people. If health authorities recommend against the use of the vaccine, Þórólfur stated it would delay Iceland’s vaccination efforts, which aim to inoculate 75% of the population by the end of July.

Read More: What’s the status of COVID-19 vaccination in Iceland?

“I hope there won’t be any delay even if we stop using it for a few weeks. However, if the final result is that it is too risky to use the vaccine, it will affect the big picture,” Þórólfur stated. Iceland has ordered 230,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine, one of six vaccines the country will acquire through European collaboration. So far 61,134 have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Iceland, 16.58% of the population.